Creating the Capsula Mundi
Author: Michelle McCosker Date Posted:6 June 2018
With the Capsula Mundi urns launching in Australia, we take a moment to talk to Anna & Raoul – the team behind the Capsula Mundi project.
Meet the team behind the Capsula Mundi
MM: You both have very different and diverse backgrounds. Can you tell us a bit about that?
AC: I’ve been working in the illustration field after having an artistic education and I have been working for years in a specific area of advertising. I have had many experiences because of my interest in different fields like photography and publishing. I have often been fascinated by working with my hands and by making objects for photo sets or out of scale.
RB: I have a background in architecture. My fascination for materials led me to a complex journey through the conservation of cultural heritage and set design. I like the idea of being able to watch and know the same object from different points of view, like the restoration of a work of art – many material operations strictly related to the knowledge of a broader cultural context, but also to the expressive and manual work of the artist.
MM: What inspired you to work together?
A&R: We have a common sensitivity and we share similar ideas about the development of our society, the "progress". We think that the progress of our society is complex, articulated and therefore very different to what it looks like, and from what the media shows us. In our vision, a designed object is the expression of the contents that generated it, like an archaeological find that reveals clues of another culture that we perceive simply by looking at it or by touching it. In some ways, Capsula Mundi is the expression of a change in our culture. It's not yet predominant, but it is strongly valued and appreciated. A different approach we hope will be prevalent soon.
MM: How did you come up with the Capsula Mundi project?
A&R: We wanted to rethink the elements related to the end of life, which in Italy, as in many other countries, have not been redesigned for decades, or perhaps for centuries. So basically, we have redesigned the coffin, trying to look at death from a different point of view and with a focus on environmental sustainability. On one hand we chose universal symbols of rebirth (the egg, the tree and the foetal position), because in our project, death is not the end but the beginning of a new life – a way back to the cycle of nature. On the other hand, and contrary to the current, regular coffins made with precious woods (trees with slow growth), we decided to plant a tree instead of cutting one down. We often believe we are above other forms of life but if we want the planet to prosper we should change our point of view, admitting that we are an element of nature and part of the whole cycle of life.
MM: So many people have seen the big Capsula intended for a body. Did this inspire the Urn? Is the larger one still being developed?
A&R: The Capsula Mundi urn and Capsula Mundi for the body are parts of the same project. The urn is the first step to make the whole Capsula Mundi concept a reality. Capsula Mundi is not only about our products, it's a cultural and broad-based project, which envisions a different approach to the way we think about death. We are still working on the Capsula for the body, but it’s not the only goal we have. We want to create new services, cemeteries designed for our concept, social and environmental interconnections, and local networks. There are many ideas and there are always new ones – lots of exciting work to be done!
MM: The shape of the Capsula Mundi is so beautiful – what is it based on?
For us, the shape of the egg is an evolutionary legacy, a gift from the past. From the dawn of time, this fantastic shape has arisen from a natural “non-geometry” and has always accompanied life. It speaks to everyone, even to other life forms – if we could only understand them! And it reminds us of the idea of protection, of welcome, of rebirth, of perfection of the cycle of life that stubbornly renews itself from the first spark. That’s why it has always been a symbol of life.
MM: Do you think your Italian heritage influenced your design? How?
A&R: Communicating through images and objects is part of our contemporary culture, but it comes from our history. Italy is rich in culture and art, and we live in contact with it every day. Of course, the contents of the past were commemorative or theological or ethical, but perhaps living in this layered environment full of messages, led us to design objects not only thinking of the mere function, but also considering the symbolism of shapes, as a way to communicate a message that could be universally understood.
MM: What have been some of the responses to the Capsula Mundi urn?
A&R: Capsula Mundi was first presented in Milan, in 2003, at one of the world's major furniture fairs – the Salone del Mobile. In this setting, it was difficult at first to introduce a project about death, a quite uncomfortable topic. Actually, we were afraid of the possible reactions but then we realised that people were really interested in looking at this topic in a different way, and in removing the heavy cultural taboo on death. They loved the idea to becoming a tree and thinking about death in a positive way. After that, the interest around Capsula Mundi has grown a lot. Now we have around 45,000 people following us on Facebook and we receive tens of emails everyday.
The story behind the Capsula Mundi
MM: How long did it take to come to the exact shape for the Capsula Mundi?
A&R: We did a lot of tests before arriving at the choice of material and production technique. We realised that a product made by an industrial process only was cold. And tha exclusively artisanal production was beautiful but slow and very expensive. In the end, we decided to mix the two, so currently Capsula Mundi is made with an industrial production technique which involves some manual interventions during the process. The result is an object that is always unique, warmer to the touch and personal.
MM: How long have you now been working on the Capsula Mundi?
A&R: The Capsula Mundi concept was presented first in Milan in 2003. Over the last 15 years, we have been working to make people familiar with a different approach to death, and promote our idea. We have participated in exhibitions, been interviewed and written articles, built a dialogue with our supporters on social media, and we also did a TED Talk! Then in 2015, pushed by the number of people asking us to make this concept a reality we decided to start experimenting how to produce the Capsula Mundi urn. In 2017 we had the first lot ready. The Capsula for the body is a bit further back, but we are working on it.
MM: How many prototypes have you made?
A&R: We spent a long time before arriving at the choice of the material and the production technique. This research drove us to produce around 30 prototypes, about half of which were fine tune developments of the current technique.
A crash course in using the Capsula Mundi urn
MM: What is the ideal way for people to use the urn?
A&R: Capusla Mundi is a project about life. Life in the broadest sense – feeling part of the "cycle of life". According to local laws, Capsula Mundi can be planted on private property or in natural burial grounds. People can choose the tree they would like to become and also where to be planted. Using Capsula Mundi is very easy. You need to dig a hole in the ground, place the urn with ashes in it and plant a tree on the top. Then you just feed it with water…and love! People can choose a religious ceremony or farewell rite according to their own culture, and subsequently use our burial system, so Capsula Mundi is open to everyone.
MM: Can people use the Capsula urn to bury ashes beneath an exisiting plant or tree?
A&R: Yes, it is possible! It is a way to take care and protect a tree with a special emotional value for you. They are acts that place you in the right perspective.
MM: Is it true that ashes can harm a plant if buried underneath? How does the Capsula prevent this?
A&R: It is true, ashes have a very high PH level that could prevent the growth of plants, but the bio-plastic we have chosen to produce the Capsula Mundi urns breaks down slowly, starting with small fractures. In this way, the ashes mix gradually with the ground. This slow dispersion process helps to balance the soil action – the soil is a powerful buffer solution and it is therefore able to neutralize the high PH level of the ash, it just needs time. In addition, the rainwater that penetrates into the soil gradually dissolves the sodium and potassium salts, which become attractive and useful for the growth of the plants.
Read about how the Capsula Mundi is changing the world.